2010, marked another day America lost one of its classic Hollywood film stars and Broadway stage actress – Patricia Neal
. Her best-known films include The Day the Earth Stood Still
(1951), where she plays a role as a World War II widow; and a wealthy matron in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
(1961); as well as Alma Brown, a middle-aged housekeeper in Hud
(1963). No matter what film she performed in, I always enjoyed her superb acting.
was born Patsy Louise Neal
in Packard, Kentucky and grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee where she studied drama at Northwestern University.
Ms. Neal moved to New York and got her first job as understudy in the Broadway production, The Voice of the Turtle
. Her next play was Another Part of the Forest (1946), which won her a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Play. i
Her Hollywood film debut was John Loves Mary
(1949) and in the same year. The Fountainhead
, where she began her affair with her co-star, Gary Cooper
, who was married. Patricia had met Gary in 1947 when she was 21 and he was 46. In 1950, Veronica’s wife found out about the relationship and sent Patricia a telegram demanding that the affair end. In the meantime, Patricia found out she was pregnant and Cooper persuaded her to have an abortion. ii
The affair ended, just after Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper
, (later Maria Cooper Janis
) spat upon Patricia Neal in public. iii
Years after Gary Cooper’s death, Maria and Veronica reconciled with Patricia Neal.
Patricia met Roald Dahl
, a British writer at a dinner party in 1951 and were married on July 2nd
1953. They had five children. iv
Patricia’s granddaughter, Sophie Dahl
, is an actress and model.
In the early 1960s, Patricia and Roald experienced tragedy when one child was seriously injured and another died. In December of 1960, their son, Theo, died at four months old from brain damage when his baby carriage was struck by a taxicab in New York City. In November of 1962, their daughter, Olivia, died at age 7 from measles encephalitis. While Patricia was pregnant in 1965, Patricia experienced three cerebral aneurysms and was in a coma for three weeks. Dahl helped in her rehabilitation and she relearned how to walk and talk. Patricia gave birth to a healthy daughter, Lucy.
In 1963, Patricia Neal
won the Academy Award for Best Actress
for her performance in Hud
, co-starring with Paul Newman
. During this time she also collected other awards like Best Leading Actress
from the New York Film Critics
, the National Board of Review,
and a BAFTA award
from the British Academy
In 1965, she was reunited with John Wayne
in the film directed by Otto Preminger, In Harm’s Way
, which won her a second BAFTA
In 1967, Patricia Neal was offered the role as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate
, but turned it down because it had been too soon after recovering from three strokes in 1965. She returned to Hollywood and performed in The Subject Was Roses
in 1968, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.
One of the best classic made-for-TV movies was due to her performance in The Homecoming: A Christmas Story
in 1971, which was actually the pilot episode for The Waltons
, which became a long-running series. Oddly, despite winning the Golden Globe for her performance in the pilot film, she was not invited to continue her role in the television series – the part went to Michael Learned, who performed admirably. Waltons
creator, Earl Hamner
, said he and the producers were not sure if Patricia Neal’s health would allow her to perform in a weekly television series. v
I managed to catch the 1975 episode of NBC’s Little House on the Prairie
where Patricia Neal portrayed a dying widowed mother trying to find a home for her three children, one of the most moving scenes I had ever seen. It reinforced my respect for her talent.
In 1978, the Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville dedicated the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in her honor. She appeared in advertisements for the Center in the year of 2006.
Despite her continued health problems, she made appearances, like in 2007, in the art movie: Beyond Baklava: The Fairy Tale Story of Sylvia’s Baklava, appearing in portions of the documentary.
Because she was one of the first winner’s of the Tony Awards since its inception, she has often appeared on the Tony Awards telecast. She had lost her original Tony award, so Bill Irwin gave her a replacement when they presented the Best Actress Award to Cynthia Nixon in 2006.
In April of 2009, Patricia Neal received a lifetime achievement award from WorldFest Houston
on the occasion of her debut of her film, Flying By
Patricia and Dahl’s marriage lasted for 30 years, through tragic times, but ended in divorce in 1983 after Patricia discovered Dahl was having an affair with her friend, Felicity Crosland
Patricia Neal published an autobiography entitled As I Am
, published in 1988. In 1981, Glenda Jackson player her in a television movie role in The Patricia Neal Story
, co-starring Dick Bogarde
as Roald Dahl
, her husband.
Her life was just as dramatic as her roles in films and stage. But she kept her sense of humor somehow.
Patricia Neal died at her home in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts on August 8th 2010 of lung cancer at the age of 84.
iii Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life; Kentucky University Press, 2006; p. 88.